February 28, 2017
An email comes from one Radhika Shetty from Mangalore, asking: Sir, will you please attend our dance festival? I ask, not assuming I'm much known in moffusil India, “Who gave you my name or email id to invite?” She says, “I read you on narthaki and have most copies of attendance.” (In south India I've learnt to be polite so I can't ask, “Who are you?” Internet sometimes can give a clue nowadays but there are many similar sounding Radhika Shettys on the net!) So I ask instead for a list of who is dancing. 3 out of 6, I want to see (their progress in art, having seen them grow up) - Purvadhanashree, sincere student of Swapnasundari and daughter of Kamalini and Kuber Dutt of Delhi Doordarshan, and B.P. Sweekruth, Kathak talent from Bangalore. Add Dakshina, the dancing daughter of Rama Vaidyanathan, I have never seen before on stage. Rama was Yamini Krishnamurthy's best student and now Saroja Vaidyanathan’s bahu. So I catch a train from Madras and reach Mangalore.
The heritage building of the Don Bosco school has quaint instructions (DON’T play loud music! Hall will be closed at 8.15pm!). Audience ambles in slowly, late by half hour! Dakshina is an amazingly strong dancer. She possesses Devi Shakti. That's a gift, like Yamini, Sanjukta, Protima had. Either a dancer has it, or not. No guru can teach it, no school can train one for it. It’s either there or not. Some dancers look magnetic and powerful on stage. Some dynamic. It’s called stage presence. Most don’t have it. One in thousand has it. Most just go through the paces. Or poses. Perfect costumes, music, postures, but lifeless.
Dakshina dancing in Dakshina Kannada (that’s a region!) gave a good account of her art. Her cameo varnam on theme of Shurpanakha sat well on her and from the minute she entered till she left, she was fire and brim. In one or two places, she reminded of Vyjayanthimala combined with Yamini. Same presence. Even her exit through the audience was effective, all craning necks to see her go to the forest, as we were.
Purvadhanashree’s Vilasini Natyam is poetic, langurous and unlaboured and grows steadily. There is nothing hurried or harried and her hastas are well etched. She has some face muscle twitch that can distract and overall she looks sad. Art reflects life and on stage life one lives, gets magnified. Mohiniattam may suit her personality more. Today Mohiniattam has become masculine! Most girls dance it like Bharatanatyam. So soft delivery dancers like Purva may bring the beauty back. Vilasini Natyam as a form has not succeeded much despite spoon feeding and state support. It is a Jurassic Park of Indian dance, I had said 20 years ago in the Times of India (30 Dec 1997) and the fact today less than five people dance it, (Purva counted on her one hand the handful of active dancers to me) shows where it stands. Vilasini Natyam is a ritual. To now make the ritual a stage show, is its pitfall and very unnecessary. Bharatanatyam and Orissi too at one point were temple offerings, some may argue. But they got much support from society, had many great gurus, thus got volumes of followers and were installed and institutionalized. That is unlikely to happen to Vilasini Natyam. One swallow doesn’t make for summer.
B.P. Sweekruth has had many sources to acquire his Kathak from. They are teachers mostly who teach items – Nirupama-Rajendra, Maulik-Ishara. Gurus teach an art form in totality. Teachers can only prepare for stage; gurus can prepare for a life on stage. This and more, young generation doesn’t even know. Next issue of attenDANCE is on this topic of GSP! The GURU SHISHYA PARAMPARA. (Issue details on www.attendance-india.com)
Sweekruth gave such an excellent account of his art in Mangalore that one was left wondering if he had been to a Finishing School. How each costume was so neatly ironed, not a wrinkle showed. Five items, five costumes. Each item well executed, well choreographed and well finished. Wah! Ustad wah! Sweekruth is a clean Kathak dancer. He does not over reach what he does not know and he does not dance what he does not know. He undertakes each aspect fully. He is pleasant on stage and has a cool presence. Need more be said? Yes, while ending chakras, he should try not falter in endings and be steady.
Other dancers were passable - one sweet NRI dancer; one jumping bean, local fire and spit with no sense of rhythm; a third who left no impression fore to even recount! Three dancers per evening means the last one suffers. Always. Audiences get up and go (even if it’s a free show, with no ticket) and organizers get tired too. But such festivals are good linking points. Excellent tech support by Pratap Dev team was an enhancement. Fortunately, the organizer Radhika Shetty herself didn’t dance thus focusing on presenting other young talents. Way to go! Volunteer Vishesh was special. Born in the USA, this 9 year old handled arrivals, departures and the book table. Catch them young, Radhika sure knows how.
Another important trend is to create controversies to get eyeballs. Thus, letters will be written from anonymous ids if a report or review is not favorable! Media is now being blamed for speaking the truth. Attendance at Hindu’s Huddle had speakers on most subjects, from Afghanistan to Trumpistan but not a session on dance. There were spiritual Sadhgurus but no dance or music gurus. Ditto at same time ongoing Bangalore TIMES OF INDIA lit-fest. Same old names, saying the same old drivel. Music had a TMK but dance no AMK! Dance is very marginalized and dancers - mostly self absorbed and selfish - are not even realizing it. Society puts no premium on their work. Period. Music and mystics sell but not dance. THINK.
‘Thinking dancer’ is a quaint term as though others don’t! Last two decades, this word has been bandied for those who can’t dance but can think! Did all the greats - Indrani, Yamini think or not? Sonal? Sanjukta? Uma? Sitara? Padma? Valli? Think? Or not think?!
Photos: R Prasana
A lot of thinking went into the creation of India’s Bolshoi, the Kalakshetra’s latest offering Sarasvati Antarvahini. The river. It's a subject that cannot be contained thus how to even comprehend? A team of thinkers and philosophers - Pappu Venugopal Rao, Chitra Madhavan, V.R. Devika - put their great minds and musicians of repute like Shriram Kumar and Arun Prakash set it. Lyrics by Pappuji and Raghuram were the highlight though Hindi lines were murdered by Carnatic singers. In fact, one word was so badly pronounced it became a cuss word. If this production is ever performed in North or central India, Hindi portions should be re-recorded. Costumes lacked known Kalakshetra aesthetics and were garish. Gujarat costumes were cheapest looking. A group of 15 day dancers of whom Rajkamal and Sreedevi had presence, created a wholesome work, first time set to recorded music in Kalakshetra’s scheme of things. The institution has woken up artistically under Priyadarsini Govind, while she credits chairman N.Gopalaswami with total support to all they undertake. An overflowing Rukmini Arangham hall showed why Kalakshetra remains popular even in a city where every third street has a BN dancer. All of Madras turned up as it was also on eve of Athai's birthday.
Next day of the Remembering Rukmini Devi Festival, Ranjana Gauhar presented her depiction of Tagore’s famed Chitrangada. The tale of princess of Manipur, who is besotted by Arjuna, is well known. Ranjana cannot bend and exert or even try to maintain basic Orissi grammar of postures, so she should eschew such central roles and just choreograph and give central roles to more qualified students. The production remained patchy all through with no cohesiveness and except for a well trained Orissi dancer Brinda Chaddha, who maintained chaukh and danced graciously, all others just went through the paces. Male dancer Vinod Kevin from Trinidad made for a reasonable Arjuna. The English commentary was uneven, muffled and shrieky. Dancers whose bios announce Padmashri ten times in one evening (one audience member asked from behind if that was her first name!) need to THINK.
Shama Bhate is an exception. This bahu of Rohini Bhate didn’t dance much in her heydays but now has trained a good group and brought her jewel of a production in Katha called Krishna the Liberator. Here is one smart Kathak dancer who eschews being on stage senselessly and instead choreographs a solid work of art. From the minute her group entered, one could see the solid foundation and training. Each sequence of Krishna was well executed, even if in end by the time Uddhav came, it became a case of ennui. Avni, Ameera all shone like a well cut diamond. Shama Bhate is an exceptional choreographer of Kathak today.
Thus, TRENDING today are group works. But stars always are to be found solo! Not in clusters. THINK!
A critic first and last, Ashish Khokar wears many hats - that of a historian, scholar, editor, curator and mentor. 43 published books and numerous articles in the last 40 years of dance writing, vests him with a wide, ringside view. Films, festivals, seminars, exhibitions, committees on dance are also his domain. Mainstream media and mofussil mehfils engage him too, as also visiting universities to teach special modules on dance history.
We just read Trending by Ashish Khokar ji and are extremely happy that he was in Mangalore for a Bharatanatyam recital, a few weeks ago. Though we are in Bangalore (My daughter Kiran is a student of Bharatanatyam in Bangalore) we are basically from Mangalore which we visit very regularly. Being a tier two city and given the vast distance from Bangalore it had not yet been a destination for dance, despite the efforts of many gurus who work hard without much exposure or recognition.
We along with many others are extremely happy that Khokar ji could come here to be with us. We are sure that his visit will put Mangalore not only on the national but also on the international map and inspire many upcoming and aspiring dancers.
- Dinesh Kamath (March 1, 2017)
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